by ANDREW GARDA
There are no good ways to lose a game, but some losses are worse than others. That was the case Thursday afternoon when the top-seeded Montclair High School boys soccer team fell to 14th-seeded Morris Knolls, 3-2, in double overtime at the North I, Group IV championship game at Fortunato Field.
The two teams played an excellent game, with both sides generating multiple chances and a feel that at any moment, one errant pass or masterful dribble could change the course of the game. That one great play would be the fulcrum upon which the game finishes.
Unfortunately for this game, it was the officials, not the players, who caused the final turning point, as the Golden Eagles’ game-winning goal came on a penalty kick following what the Mounties felt was a very questionable call.
“I feel like something was taken away,” Montclair head coach Toure Weaver said after the game. “Who knows how that ends, but it shouldn’t have ended like that.”
The two teams traded goals during regulation, heading into overtime when neither could hold the advantage. After a scoreless first overtime period, Morris Knolls forward Tommy Scalici moved the ball into the penalty box and was met by Mountie defender Henry Ogden.
Ogden jabbed his foot out to steal the ball from Scalici, causing it to come to a sharp stop. Scallici, a St. John’s commit, launched himself into the air, likely to avoid injuring his foot or ankle in a collision with Ogden.
The Mounties began to turn the ball upfield, only to be caught short when the official blew his whistle.
While it appeared that Ogden’s tackle only made contact with the ball, the official took notice of Scalici’s launch and he called a penalty kick.
— MHS Boys Soccer (@Mountiefutbol) November 9, 2018
Weaver protested the call, to no avail.
“The guy knew he was wrong,” Weaver said. “I ran out on the field to question them and they said he got his legs. He got all ball. There’s only so much you can do. We’ll probably send something in, but who knows how that works.”
And while Montclair goalkeeper Sebastian Herrera had helped Montclair win back-to-back penalty shootouts in the Essex County Tournament final and the North 1, Group IV semifinals earlier in the week, it wasn’t to be Thursday. Scalici coolly finished the ensuing penalty kick to score the golden goal for the Golden Eagles (15-9-2), who advance to Tuesday’s Group IV semifinal against Elizabeth.
Meanwhile, the Mounties were shattered, with members of the team lying around on the field in disbelief, others furious at the way the game ended.
Aside from the questionable call, both the Mounties (18-1-2) and Golden Eagles provided the packed stands with some top-shelf soccer action.
Montclair was aggressive in its ball movement, putting it on the ground and moving the ball from player to player to force Morris Knolls to chase.
Morris Knolls countered with a contained and disciplined game, centering their offense on Scalici, who scored twice with an assist on a goal by Andrew Sceurman. The scores were Scalici’s 27th and 28th of the season.
Meanwhile, Montclair’s offense was generated by Mehdi Elfilali, who scored with a beautiful header off a corner kick, and Evan O’Brien, whose goal evened up the game with just under eight minutes left in regulation. MHS pelted Knolls goalie Stevie Genung with 19 shots during the course of the game.
“It got to the point where I feel like we were possessing and sending dangerous into the forward,” Weaver said. “We had a couple of real good opportunities we just nearly missed.”
Both Herrera and Genung did excellent work between the posts, with both keepers making several impressive saves.
At the end of the day though, it came down to a penalty kick in overtime.
“It hurts,” Weaver said. “But this is why you play the game. The biggest thing out of this game is the life lessons you learn. I just told the guys that things sometimes don’t go your way. You just have to pick yourself up and get back at it.”
Montclair put together one of its finest seasons ever in 2018, winning 18 consecutive games to start the season and capturing both the Super Essex Conference-American Division and Essex County Tournament championships. The Mounties scored 46 goals this season — led by Will Moore (9), O’Brien (6), Elfilali (6) and Phillip Cubbedu (5). Montclair’s defense allowed just 13 goals all season, the best mark in Essex County.
Weaver said it hurt to say goodbye to his seniors under any circumstances, especially in the one they had found themselves in Thursday.
“I told them I love them,” he said. “Keep their heads up. They’ve given a lot to the program and they have nothing to be ashamed of. In the beginning of the year we talked about getting hardware and we got two trophies. We got the conference title and the Essex County title and that’s the best conference and county in the state. It’s hard to see right now but they’ll see it.”